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The U.S. Working Class - Two Quick Snapshots

1) Still Working Hard: An Update on the Share of Older Workers in Physically Demanding Jobs 2) Almost Two-Thirds of People in the Labor Force Do Not Have A College Degree

Workers from the United Steelworkers (USW) union walk a picket line outside the Lyondell-Basell refinery in Houston, Texas February 1, 2015.,Reuters/Richard Carson

Almost Two-Thirds of People in the Labor Force Do Not Have A College Degree
Still Working Hard: An  Update  on  the  Share  of  Older Workers  in  Physically  Demanding Jobs

Almost Two-Thirds of People in the Labor Force Do Not Have A College Degree
Robert E. Scott and David Cooper
Economic Policy Institute

Almost two-thirds of people in the labor force (65.1 percent) do not have a college degree. In fact, people without a college degree (which includes those without a high school degree, with a high school degree, some college education, and an associates’ degrees) make up the majority of the labor force in every state but the District of Columbia. Mississippi has the highest share of non-college educated workers (75.7 percent) while Massachusetts and the District of Columbia have the lowest shares (51 percent and 33.7 percent, respectively).

It is no secret that wages for typical workers have stagnated over the past 35 years. The lagging recovery of construction and manufacturing sectors, two sectors which traditionally provide strong wages for workers without college degrees, is one reason for this wage stagnation. Trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership threaten to make the possibility of strong, middle-class jobs even more elusive for non-college educated workers.

We cannot solve the problem of low and stagnating wages for non-college educated workers by expecting everyone to pursue more education. We need solutions that will raise wages for all workers, regardless of educational attainment. These solutions include raising the minimum wage, strengthening collective bargaining rights, prioritizing very low rates of unemployment through monetary policy, and reducing our trade deficit by stopping destructive currency manipulation.

Still Working Hard: An  Update  on  the  Share  of  Older Workers  in  Physically  Demanding Jobs

Cherrie Bucknor and Dean Baker
March 2016

Executive Summary

A  recurring  theme  in  debates  over  Social  Security  policy  is  that  workers  should  be  encouraged  to work  later  into  their  lives  by  raising the  age  at  which  they  can  get  full  benefits.  Implicit  in  this argument is that most workers are in a situation where they would be able to work to an older
age; however, many older workers stop working because they can no longer meet the physical demands of their job.

In  2010,  CEPR  did  an  analysis that  examined  the  percentage  of  older  workers  (ages 58 and  over) who  either  worked in physically  demanding  jobs  or  in  difficult  work  conditions.  This  paper  is  an update of that earlier study and is based on data from 2014.

Using  data  from  the  Current  Population  Survey  (CPS)  and  Occupational  Information  Network (O*NET)  it  finds  that  in 2014,  8.0  million workers  ages 58 and  older  (34.5 percent)  had  physically demanding  jobs,  while  5.1 million  workers  ages 58 and older  (22.1 percent)  had  jobs  with  difficult working  conditions. About  10.2 million  workers  ages 58  and  older  (43.8 percent)  were  employed either in physically demanding jobs or jobs with difficult working conditions. The workers who were most likely to  be  in  these  jobs  were Latinos,  the  least  educated  (less  than  a  high  school  diploma), immigrants, and the lowest wage earners.

Physically demanding jobs include general physical activities, handling and moving objects, spending significant  time  standing, walking  or running,  making  repetitive  motions, or  having  any  highly physically demanding work. Highly physically demanding jobs require dynamic, explosive, static, or trunk  strength, bending  or  twisting  of  the  body,  stamina,  maintaining  balance, or  kneeling  or crouching. Difficult working conditions include working in a cramped workspace, labor outdoors, or exposure to abnormal temperatures, contaminants, hazardous equipment, whole body vibration, or distracting or uncomfortable noise.

The study also finds:

  • 37.0 percent of male workers ages 58 and older had jobs that involved any general physical demand, as did 31.7 percent of female workers. These percentages have changed little since 2009, although the absolute numbers have increased since more older people are now working.
  • 51.0 percent of older Latino workers had physically demanding jobs, with 9.1 percent having jobs with high physical demands. By comparison, the percentages for Blacks were 38.9 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively and for White workers 31.8 percent and 2.8 percent.


  • Older workers with less than a high school diploma had the highest share of workers in physically demanding jobs, with 68.4 percent in jobs with some physical demands and 12.8 percent in jobs with high physical demands. In contrast, only 22.7 percent of workers with a college degree were in physically demanding jobs, and 1.4 percent were in jobs with high physical demands.
  • 46.6 percent of immigrant workers ages 58 and older had physically demanding jobs, compared to 32.7 percent for non-immigrant workers.
  • 54.8 percent of older workers in the bottom wage quintile had physically demanding jobs compared to 16.2 percent of those in the top quintile. The share in jobs with high physical demands was 6.4 percent for the bottom quintile and just 1.7 percent for those in the top quintile.

Read the remainder of the report here.

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